The sandpaper fiasco took a huge toll on the Australian selection committee with the squad wearing a slightly weak look post the incident. As expected they went through a torrid time with every move and strategy being questioned from all corners of the cricketing community.
An instance of their chaotic act; before the India Test series began, Mitchell Marsh was appointed vice-captain but he didn’t feature in the first two Tests, finally getting a game in third Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground. But after failing to impress the selectors, he was replaced by rookie, Marnus Labuschagne for the final Test.
Labuschagne’s selection sent shockwaves around Australia. Former cricketer, Ed Cowan called it a ‘dumbfound’. Columnist and former cricketer Dean Jones wrote in the Sydney Herald that it bewilders him why selectors had decided to go with a kid who averages 33 in First Class cricket and bowls a bit of leg-spin. Jones further added after Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds, no experimentation with all-rounders have been fruitful.
Cometh the hour, India batted Australia out of the game with a massive 622/7d in the first innings. Australia had no option but to spend time at crease and take the game deep. The opening pair of Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja added 79 for the first wicket.
Once Khawaja was gone, Australia’s move flabbergasted everybody as Labuschagne was sent at number three. The gravity of the situation demanded an experienced head and to send a rookie, who just played three Tests until that point, was astonishing. It was a herculean task but sportsmen wait their entire life for such moment. These kind of situations are career-defining. But it was easier said than done.
The first ball he faced was a 146kmph inswinging Yorker from Jasprit Bumrah that almost crushed his toe. He was beaten by pace and just managed to thud the bat onto pad. The ball almost rolled back onto the stumps. The next ball; a tailing inswinger on off stump which Labuschagne blocked with a straight bat. Bumrah unleashed a slower ball in the final ball of the over which the right-hander spotted early and defended from the pitch. Labuschagne lived to fight another day.
Playing out a dangerous spell by Bumrah gave him immense confidence and he looked determined to dish out a gritty display and help his team’s cause. India’s bowling boasted the likes of Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja but it was Bumrah who was unplayable. Every time Bumrah came to bowl he looked a totally different player.
As match progressed the situation became ideal for bowling. After lunch on Day 3, the players were greeted with grey skies and Bumrah was getting enough movement of the pitch to keep Labuschagne on his toes. Some deliveries were zipping past his stumps, some rising at an awkward length, some crushing his toes and some playing hide and seek with the inside and outside edge of the bat.
Labuschagne faced 95 balls in the entire innings out of which 28 came from Bumrah and it was the very fact that put weight on his innings. The irrepressible, Bumrah induced 14% false shots of Labuschagne’s bat but the Queenslander didn’t get bogged down by Bumrah’s reputation rather put in an impressive dogged resistance.
It was an innings of great substance that ended four hours later with the right-hander scoring 38, handing the hosts a faint glimmer of hope. Although he scored 38 runs, the manner in which he handled the situation was praiseworthy.
It was a tough assessment, an assessment that tested his temperament, skills, character. Labuschagne’s innings was an indication of rise of a superstar in the making. The youngster followed it up with another solid knock of 81 against the visiting Sri Lankans.
From being jobless to last-minute entry in County championship, Labuschagne’s fortune took a complete U-turn. Labuschagne was out of action for nearly three months as Australia wouldn’t play further Test matches but there was a twist in the tale.
In April earlier this year, an injury to Shaun Marsh opened up an ideal opportunity for Labuschagne as English county side Glamorgan invited him to join the side.
His stint with Glamorgan has given him the perfect exposure to stay in contention for the all-important Ashes series.
On April 11 he played his first county match against Northamptonshire and slammed a century. He scored 121 of 177 balls that included 19 boundaries.
In the next 8 matches, he went on to notch four more centuries against Gloucestershire, Sussex and Worcestershire and in the process became the first batsmen to score 1000 runs in the Specsavers County Championship. He was no mug with the ball either after bowling over 180 overs and picking 19 wickets in 10 matches.
His stupendous show caught the eye of Australian coach Justin Langer who lavished praise on the South African born cricketer. “I have seen a lot of improvement in his cricket,” said Langer when interviewed by Cricket Australia.com.au
Despite his performances, the return of David Warner and Steve Smith leaves Labuschagne in the lurch about his role in Australia’s Test squad. Langer made it clear the younger Marsh and Labuschagne will fight for the all-rounder’s spot. Having said that should Australia go with the performance of an exuberant youth or give experience the priority?